50% polling in Bengal marred by violence (3rd Lead) (1 p.m.)

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Kolkata, May 6 (IANS) Amid attacks on two BJP candidates Arjun Singh and Locket Chatterjee and cases of intimidation, violence, bombings and EVM glitches, half of West Bengal’s electorate in seven Lok Sabha constituencies voted in six hours on Monday in the fifth phase.

Till 1 p.m., polling was highest in Uluberia (54.39 per cent), followed by Arambag (53.84), Sreerampur (52.99), Hooghly (51.60), Bangaon (49.42), Barrackpore (46.26) and Howrah (45.97).

In the last Lok Sabha polls in 2014, the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress had won all these seven seats. Polling that started at 7 a.m. will continue till 6 p.m.

Violence erupted in North 24 Parganas’ Barrackpore earlier in the day where former Railway Minister and sitting MP Dinesh Trivedi is taking on his erstwhile “election-manager” Arjun Singh.

Singh had crossed over to the BJP in March after he was denied ticket by the Trinamool leadership.

The new BJP leader sustained minor injuries on his face after being attacked allegedly by Trinamool supporters outside a polling booth in the Aamdanga Assembly segment.

“The truth will be captured by the media and monitored by the Election Commission (EC). Moreover, Singh is a ‘Baahubali’, how can anyone attack him,” Trivedi said when asked about Singh’s allegations.

In Naihati, Singh was chased away by Trinamool workers shouting “Go back, Arjun Singh”. He had reached the spot after he heard that outsiders were scaring away voters.

In Hooghly constituency, BJP nominated actress-turned-politician Locket Chatterjee (Hooghly) accused the Trinamool Congress of conducing proxy voting in Dhanekhali area.

Alleging that her car was vandalised, Chatterjee said the central forces were “not deployed properly” and there were more than one Trinamool agents inside the polling booth in the area, while her party agents were not being allowed inside.

“There were booth capturing. I will not allow anyone to use their influence in voting. I am not at all happy with the deployment of central forces as they are being misguided by the state police.

“It is not humanly possible to keep running to different booths wherever such problems arise,” she said.

However, Trinamool activists and polling officials accused her of creating disturbances and vandalising voting machine at booth number 159 at Dhanekhali.

In Gayeshpur under the Bangaon constituency, the central forces were seen actively dispersing gatherings near the polling booths. Outsiders trying to hide in the houses of the locals were also caught by them.

Protesting alleged incidents of bombs being hurled at by BJP activists at the Hingli area in Bangaon, Trinamool supporters blocked an arterial road.

They claimed two persons, including one police officer, were injured in the incident.

Later, central forces and police personnel were deployed to bring the situation under control.

In Sreerampur constituency, BJP candidate Debjit Sarkar’s assistant was allegedly beaten by state’s ruling party supporters.

In Bijpur under the Barrackpore constituency voters were summoned back from their homes for casting their votes a second time.

The presiding office revealed that the the mock poll results were not removed, leading to the recall of voters.

Also, in a booth in Tarakeshwar under the Arambag constituency, a local Trinamool leader was seen influencing voters and entering the booth. As per Election Commission sources, the presiding officer of that booth was removed immediately.

Star candidates among others whose fates would be decided during the day are sitting Trinamool MPs Kalyan Banerjee (Sreerampore) and former footballer Prasun Banerjee (Howrah) and senior journalist Rantidev Sengupta (Howrah).

An electorate of over 1.16 crore, including 60.04 lakh men, 56.86 lakh women and 211 belonging to the third gender, are eligible to choose their representatives from among 83 candidates (71 male and 12 female).

After reports of violence and the death of a voter during the previous phase, the EC deployed central forces at all the polling stations in the state.

Altogether, 578 companies of central forces have been deployed to assist the state police.

According to an analysis done by the West Bengal Election Watch and Association for Democratic Reforms, 15 candidates in this phase have assets worth over Rs 1 crore, while 23 have criminal cases registered against them.

The subsequent phases of polling in the state will take place on May 12 and May 19. Polling in 18 out of the 42 Lok Sabha constituencies in West Bengal have been completed in the first four phases.

The votes will be counted on May 23.



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